Does earning money while living in a new and exciting surroundings sound appealing to you? Accepting employment overseas can offer both a cultural experience of living abroad and the possibility of new job skills. More people than ever are working abroad, so if you like the concept, consider what options are available to you.
A large benefit of working abroad is that it can give you both the income and a base for further travel. For example, seeing Southeast Asia is certainly possible if you live on another continent — see Banana Pancake Trail for some of the routes — but it becomes much easier if you get a job for a few years in Singapore.
Also without taking a job abroad, business travel is common in many professions. Time and distance away from home vary a lot.
Jobs overseas can be divided into main categories:
- Professional or skilled jobs that require substantial experience and usually offer higher salaries and perhaps an 'expat package', including housing and a relocation allowance. These are usually advertised in the countries the workers are expected to come from, not in the country where the job is.
- Ordinary jobs advertised for locals. These usually require good knowledge of local language and customs, and often locally recognized qualifications, but if demand is high or you are good at it, they may be available also for you as a foreigner. The European Union has, at least formally, an integrated job market.
- Jobs abroad for volunteers or people otherwise willing to work for little compensation. Like for the skilled job offers, moving abroad is part of the deal, but requirements are much lower.
- More informal jobs can be picked up while travelling abroad, but offer much lower salaries and few if any benefits.
- Digital nomad jobs, work that can be done over the Internet.
Teaching English is probably the single most common occupation for working abroad, and is discussed in its own article. It can be done both professionally, if you have the relevant training and experience, or more informally, say as part of a round the world journey. Other teaching jobs are also sometimes available.
Good resources for finding jobs in general are online recruitment sites such as monster.com and Careers & Jobs, which also offer advice for moving overseas and have listings of opportunities available by country. See also the Work section of country or region listings for local job hunting resources.
Nearly all governments send staff abroad for various reasons, mainly long-term government employees but also consultants or contractors for particular projects. Government departments with offices abroad always include foreign affairs and often trade and immigration. See Diplomatic missions.
Generally in these services, junior employees spend some time "paying their dues" by working in Back-of-beyond-istan; you need some seniority to get a posting in places more attractive to most of the staff, like Geneva or Hong Kong. These jobs have all the usual benefits and problems of any civil service post. Often, though, there are extra allowances for "hardship posts", sometimes enough to pay off a mortgage back home over a few years.
Then there are government-run foreign aid organizations; many countries have several of these. For example, the US USAID and Canadian CIDA are the main overseas aid organizations for their respective governments while the US Peace Corps and Canadian CUSO send government-sponsored volunteers abroad.
Non-government professional jobs
Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) employ professional expats all around the world. These include big, quasi-governmental entities such as UNESCO or the Asian Development Bank, and private development organizations such as CARE or Oxfam. If you've got proven leadership ability, and an interest in third world development, many opportunities are available.
Teaching – teaching English is a common job for travellers, with work available almost anywhere, but particularly in Asia. If you are qualified as a school teacher in your home country, you can likely find work at an international school; see discussion in the English teaching article. Montessori teachers and instructors for universities, technical colleges and corporate training are also in demand in some places.
There are many jobs for various sorts of expert supporting offshore work. A high-tech company with a development center in India, for example, will send some of its senior employees there and will hire many Indians, but there are still many niches that others might fill. Experienced project managers are hard to find anywhere and there may be a desperate shortage in times of rapid growth, Indian technical writers may need a native English speaker as an editor, and so on.
The petroleum industry employs expats anywhere oil or natural gas is extracted. Working on an oil rig can be a tough job, but the pay is generally good. In the more difficult locations, oil industry jobs often include benefits like housing (often limited) and food (usually good) when on-site, and the employer generally provides flights home for the breaks. In an area like the North Sea or Western North America, there may be well-paid jobs for unskilled labor. In lower-income areas the unskilled jobs will be filled locally but there will be jobs for skilled rig workers to train and supervise the locals, and often for English teachers as well.
Multinational companies regularly ship employees overseas for various reasons — to set up or manage factories, overseas branches or joint ventures with local firms, to deal with purchasing and subcontracting, to provide specialist expertise or training, and so on. If you're working at a multinational, contact the human resources department and see if they have any openings.
If you work for a company with factories abroad, spending a few years in one of them can be a good career move. Consider two young engineers at the same company; Alice takes an assignment abroad but Bob declines. For the next several years, Alice is one of three foreign staff at the factory, learning to troubleshoot all sorts of weird problems and working directly with the quite senior person who manages the whole show there. Bob is still one of the more junior guys on a team doing routine work back at headquarters. When Alice returns after a few years her promotion prospects may be considerably better than Bob's.
If your company is transferring you overseas, never accept a pay cut. Yes, your expenses and taxes may be lower in the new country, but if your salary is cut you will lose the ability to save money and when you return, you will have a hard time clawing back up to your original salary, much less any raises that would otherwise have accrued. You will also have many expenses you do not have at home – and in a low-income country expenses may be surprisingly high if you do not live like a low income local.
Religious organizations also often have jobs abroad, so if you are religious it is likely worth checking with your Church or other such group. They mostly need either missionaries/proselytizers or professionals such as doctors, nurses or experts in areas like agriculture, fisheries or construction. Often these jobs do not pay well. Also, in some places they are under legal restrictions; for example, in Saudi Arabia it is illegal to attempt to convert Muslims to another faith.
A skilled cook can find work almost anywhere, and demand for cooks with a particular style is sometimes high. For example, in an area with many American tourists, American and/or Mexican cooking might be in demand. A job in a hotel, resort or restaurant in a tourist area can let you live in an interesting place either temporarily or long term. However the best pay is usually with companies that employ many expat staff and want to keep them happy with good food, for example oil rigs or overseas construction projects.
Musicians and other performance artists may be able to find work in many places; though job security is usually non-existent. For example, almost anywhere in East Asia and Southeast Asia many of the bars that cater to tourists or expatriates have Filipino bands. Also, movie or TV show makers in many countries often need actors or extras of ethnic groups other than the local ones. Except for really major roles in a well-funded production, they will not import foreign actors for these, but they will generally pay foreigners living in the area quite well by local standards.
Then there are of course the domestic job markets. For lower white-collar work, having local qualifications may be necessary, and getting such jobs can therefore be difficult. For some expert positions, on the other hand, expertise is just about the only thing that counts. Employers include universities and research and development departments of big enterprises.
Volunteering and other low-salary jobs
Many organizations send both qualified and non-qualified workers abroad as volunteers, with low salary, just compensation for expenses or even having you pay for participating in their programs. Although you are working, the main reason for sending you instead of recruiting locals may be to further international understanding. For a more thorough discussion see Volunteer.
Jobs with low salary may be offered also without the charity aspect. Here you are working to get the opportunity to get in touch with the foreign culture, more deeply and more cheaply than on a course or vacation. A typical example is working as au pair, i.e. doing household and child care work for food, bed and pocket money. Some of these jobs do pay reasonably well, but many do not. Often language is a factor in hiring; an English Canadian couple might want a French nanny so their kids learn French, and English-speaking Filipinas are in demand in most countries from Korea to Egypt.
There may be jobs for young people available through programs for cultural exchange and understanding, such as the Nordjobb scheme for people from the Nordic countries (or EU citizens knowing a relevant language).
Low salary jobs in high income countries may also be available just because few of the locals want them, while the salary may still seem decent for people with even lower wages at home. This job market has many oddities, as locals with similar jobs do not want to see their wages cut even more because of foreign competition. Look out for traps like high costs of living, illegal contracts and ruthless or even criminal employers.
If you're interested in temporary jobs, or your visa limits you to temporary jobs, there are a number of industries which often have work available:
- Hostels and hotels – Smaller hotels and B&Bs are unlikely to require their employees to speak or read English. At luxury hotels, however, with American, Irish, UK, and other English speaking business persons as the main customers, employees are likely to be required to speak and read fluent English.
- Tourist restaurants e.g. Hard Rock Cafe, or Munich's Hofbräuhaus.
- More-or-less any type of job available in hotels or restaurants can also be found on cruise ships, and there are additional jobs for mariners, diesel mechanics, etc.
- Theme parks The most famous European theme park is Disneyland Paris. Disneyland Paris usually requires non-EU citizens to have a work visa before employment. You can ask if the theme park will hire you if you can obtain a visa before leaving your home country. Ask the theme park to write a letter to that effect and apply at the French embassy in your country. The Epcot Center in Walt Disney World, Florida also hires foreigners from Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom and Canada to staff their respective countries' pavilions at the World Showcase.
- Tour operators – Tour operators are almost always looking for people to be tour guides. Getting a job as a tour guide will not allow you to travel independently much, however. Also, these jobs usually have language requirements; you must speak the customers' language and it really helps if you speak one or more of the destinations' languages as well.
- Tourist sports – Sports that people frequently travel to participate in often have associated jobs available, though they are often seasonal and therefore temporary. Examples include:
- Scuba diving, which has instructing and dive leading work. In addition, the industry employs cooks, boat operators and deck hands. Work is seasonal, peaking in the summer in subtropical areas and the winter in tropical areas like Far North Queensland and South Thailand.
- Alpine skiing, which has work in instructing, lift operation, ski patrol and rescue, snow grooming and hospitality. Work is seasonal. The major season is in the northern hemisphere's winter with work available in North America and Europe, but the southern hemisphere's winter has a smaller season in Australia, New Zealand and Peru.
- Cruising on small craft, which may provide work and transport for crew or work in places like dockyards and marinas.
- Agriculture – Seasonal work in agriculture, particularly crop work, is available in Western countries where there is often a shortage of willing local labor. Fruit picking is the most common temporary work. Longer term work with livestock is available in countries like Australia on some of the more remote livestock stations.
- Construction work including home improvement is somewhat like agriculture; in richer countries these jobs may be mostly done by migrants. This does not necessarily mean there are ad hoc work opportunities.
- For anyone from a richer country travelling in a poorer country — say, a European in India — either farm labor or construction labor are likely out of the question; he or she would almost certainly not be happy with the pay, the hours, or the working conditions. Professionals, of course, are in a whole different category; a civil engineer or a veterinary surgeon might well find interesting work at reasonable pay.
It may be possible to get seasonal work in both hemispheres. A ski instructor, for example, might work in Banff during the Canadian winter and Bariloche in the Argentinian winter, perhaps with some Caribbean or California holidays during the transits.
Quite a few countries have working holiday visas. These are bilateral arrangements between pairs of countries which allow people from either to work temporarily in the other to fund their travel. Typically they have an age limit (often under 35) and a duration limit (often a year, sometimes two). Check with your own government to discover which countries yours has such an arrangement with.
The most common jobs for these are temporary jobs as discussed above; for example, quite a few city dwellers from around the world spend a few months hard at work on sheep farms in outback Australia. However the visa generally does not limit you to temporary jobs; in most countries it lets you work legally at any job you can get.
Starting a business
Some travellers settle in a country and start a business there. This can be quite tricky; running a business is rarely easy and it is considerably harder if you do not know the country, in particular its language and legal system, well. Also, many countries place legal restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses; you may need a trustworthy local partner. That being said, some countries, most notably including popular English-speaking countries like the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, issue entrepreneur visas, which allow you to move to the respective countries to start a business provided you already have a firm business plan, and have already secured sufficient financial backing. We have some discussion of these visas at Retiring abroad#Investor visa.
Most of the things listed under temporary jobs above can also be done as businesses. Many people who have settled abroad own cafes, bars, restaurants, inns, resorts, dive shops, ... Compared to just taking a job in one of these fields, the risks are higher and an owner often works longer hours than staff, but there is more chance of large returns.
Another common choice is an import-export business; when you come from one country but live in another, you may be well placed for this. It is not always necessary to invest in container-sized lots to make money from this; you might do well just taking a commission for arranging deals, setting up guides and translators for visiting business folk, and/or doing inspections before goods are shipped.
Digital nomad work
A digital nomad is someone who takes their work with them while travelling, typically working from a laptop in a café or hotel room in some interesting spot. Much of the work involved is creative, such as writing articles or computer programs, or designing various things; see travel writing for one obvious possibility.
There are other possibilities. Some people run Internet businesses as nomads, and others do things like administering web sites remotely. Some people living abroad run a YouTube channel and/or a web site about the region they are in, and make money from advertising there. If you are an expert in some field, remote consulting may be possible; for example a skilled quantity surveyor can have clients email him building plans, and send back a list of required materials plus an invoice for the service. Editors, penetration testers and others may be able to do something similar.
There are a number of businesses catering to digital nomads:
- Online forums include Nomad list, Digital Nomad Forum and a Reddit board.
- Remote OK and Remotely Awesome Jobs are recruitment sites for digital nomads. They work as aggregators that collect jobs from many recruitment sites, then select only the ones that can be done remotely so you could do them from anywhere with good Internet service. The travel guide site Atlas and Boots also has a remote jobs section.
- WeWork offer shared office space — anything from a desk (with or without computer) to an office for a small company — in 44 cities in 16 countries. Outsite are smaller, only eight locations and all in the Americas so far, but they provide living space as well. Numbers given are as of June 2017, both these companies are expanding to new locations, and there are many other players.
- A Forbes article describes co-working office-as-a-service locations as a business trend. It estimates that by the end of 2017 14,000 co-working spaces will be available worldwide and 1.2 million people will have worked in one. By no means all of these will be nomads; many companies now put employees in these places rather than running their own facilities, but the services are also available for nomads.
- Groups such as Hacker Paradise, Remote Year, and co-Work the World organize trips for groups of digital nomads.
- Nomad City have an annual conference on Gran Canaria which brings a few hundred nomads together.
- There is a 25-meter (82-foot) sailing catamaran called Coboat, a sort of cruise ship for digital nomads. She set out from Southeast Asia in late 2015; plans call for her to circumnavigate the world, travelling east-to-west and passing through both the Suez and Panama canals. Other cruise ships might also be usable by nomads, though not all have good enough Internet service.
- Digital Nomad Academy and Digital Nomad Community are sites with a fee that offer training courses, mainly for people who want to become nomadic entrepreneurs.
A few people working for large companies have gone from works-on-site to works-at-home and on to works-on-the-road; going through this progression appears to be the only way to get a full-benefits employee position with a major firm as a nomad. These companies may also have work for contractors or consultants who are not employees, and some also have desirable but non-nomadic posts abroad for employees; see above.
See also Retiring abroad; some places suggested there would also be good for remote workers.
Always secure the proper visa before you start your journey. Most countries do not allow employment on a tourist visa. In some cases travellers try to skirt this by departing the country and returning every three months or so, an expensive and troublesome option that still leaves you working illegally. Unless your work plans are very short term, make sure that your employer can sponsor you for a valid work visa before accepting any job.
Citizens of USA often have to check the visa laws of the country they will be traveling to. If traveling abroad, but being hosted and taken care of by a company in the U.S. most countries won't require an US citizen to obtain a work visa providing that the stay does not exceed 30-90 days.
If being hired by a foreign company to travel abroad then a visa is typically required. To obtain the visa, several things will normally need to be submitted to an embassy/consulate of the nation you plan on working in:
- A visa application with passport sized photographs
- Criminal background report - This can often be obtained by visiting the sheriff's office in your county.
- A letter from the employer stating that they need your services, have hired you, the salary you will be making, and length of employment period. Occasionally more information is required.
- Evidence that you will be able to support yourself and/or your family while inside the country.
Citizens of the European Union - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - normally do not need a visa to work and live in another EU member country. Exceptions to this are with newly admitted Central European and East European countries. Some nations have instituted immigration rules and laws that effectively create quotas for the number of citizens of new EU member nations allowed to emigrate to the country.
The overseas territories of some EU countries can be interesting destinations, with some of the advantages of staying home (varying between destinations).
Take a look first
If considering a long-term assignment in a country you haven't been to before, especially with family, pay a visit first, on your own time if necessary. This will give a much better idea of what to expect: you can experience the local lifestyle firsthand, you can meet the people you'll be working with, and you'll have a head start on choosing where to live, what schools look like, etc.
- See also: Second homes
One of the hardest parts of moving abroad is finding and furnishing a place to stay. In some Asian countries like South Korea and Japan, simply renting an apartment can be very difficult due to onerous requirements like finding a Japanese guarantor who agrees to take financial responsibility for you (if you bail, they get stuck with the bill!) or, in Korea, the requirement to deposit over 50% of the purchase price of the apartment for safekeeping with the landlord. Many landlords are also reluctant to rent to foreigners, fearing culture clashes and unpaid bills — or, at the other end of the spectrum, look at foreigners as easily overcharged fools who will pay over the market price.
If your company can arrange accommodations for you, it's usually wise to take them up on the offer, at least until you get settled. Otherwise, look into long-stay accommodation like apartment hotels, which will allow you to get your feet out on the ground and explore in peace before taking the plunge. Sharing apartments with other expats is another common way of reducing hassle and expenses.
The Classifieds section of a local, expat-oriented newspaper or website is usually a great place to look for foreigner-friendly apartments.
Moving to a new house is a hassle, and moving into a foreign country is double or triply so, because you don't know how things work and there may be a language barrier too.
If you opt to have a professional ship your belongings, you're usually looking at a big bill and a wait of several months if you ship by sea, or a huge bill if you ship by air. Unless you're moving "for good", or have the company footing the bill (there and back!), you should aim to bring as little as possible. Importing a car or other motor vehicle anywhere is a major hassle. For furniture, household appliances and electronics it's usually far cheaper to buy new than ship. Books, on the other hand, can usually be shipped through ordinary mail surprisingly cheaply; ask about special rates for printed matter at your post office (in the United States, the key term is the "International M-Bag"). Most international moving companies can assist you on arrival in finding an apartment, getting a driver's license, or getting linked into the local expat community.
If you opt to bring more than your usual travel packing with you, remember that airlines usually slap on steep excess freight charges if you exceed 20 kilograms. For some travellers it may be worth considering going in business class or even first class; those are usually quite a bit more expensive, but they are more comfortable and have a larger baggage allowance.
A recommended solution would be to bring nothing more than clothing, a pc, and absolutely the bare necessities (if going by land or boat, you may be able to pack somewhat more, but going by lorry is seldom a practical option). Many expats are typically living abroad for no more than four years at a time. Often expats will purchase furniture in their destination and before returning home sell their furniture abroad. This will save you money, because you don't have to deal with the hassle of moving large objects abroad and when returning after selling off the furniture an expatriate returns with extra cash.
- See also: Money
Expect to burn a lot of money in the initial phase as you pay deposits and sort out household appliances, furniture, etc. Bring a solid chunk of cash — several months' salary is wise — and explore whether your company is willing to front you an advance or pay the deposit(s) for you.
Your expenses will depend on the cost of living at your destination. North America, Western and Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand the Middle East and Asia's richer countries (Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan) will make a sizable dent in your budget, but poorer Asian, Central European, and East European nations are much more reasonable. Expenses can also often differ drastically between different parts of the country; real estate prices are typically reasonable in the less affluent, rural parts of China, but in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai can be astronomical, rivalling even those in major Western cities.
Unless you are a diplomat, working overseas generally means that you will have to file income tax in the country you are based in. Income tax is structured differently in different countries, and the tax rates and brackets vary widely from one country to another. In some federal countries, such as the United States and Canada, income tax is levied both at the federal level and at the local level, so the rates and brackets can vary from region to region.
Many countries require you to obtain a tax identification number (eg. SSN for the U.S., NINo for the U.K., TFN for Australia) when commencing work, so your employer can report your wages to the government. Similarly, banks will also often need this number in order to report any interest income accrued by you to the government. The procedure for obtaining this number varies from country to country, and you are highly advised to consult your employer before you leave to get familiarised with the procedure.
In some cases, depending on your citizenship, you will have to pay income tax to both your country of origin and the country you work in. Some countries have treaties signed with each other to avoid double taxation; you might want to check with the relevant country to be sure.
Remember to check what is included in your employment contract and local welfare, and what you will have to pay for that not covered, including insurance. What about medical care, vacations, days off work because of illness, maternal leave, child care and education? What if you become disabled or die (at work or otherwise)? Is your working abroad adding to social security back home, such as pensions and unemployment benefits? Do not count on not losing them altogether.
In some cases the specifics of your employment affect what benefits you get or lose, e.g. whether you are sent abroad by a domestic company or employed by the local branch counted (at home) as a foreign company. The length of your stay is also important, so if working for half a year, think twice about working a few days less or more than the limit (counting in the same way as the authorities).
Healthcare systems vary greatly between countries, and you are advised to do some research before you travel. While you can expect uniformly good standards at hospitals in the United States, Canada, Western and Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the richer countries of Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel), standards can be much more variable in less developed countries. For instance, in Kuala Lumpur or Manila, you can expect relatively good healthcare standards, but the quality of healthcare drops substantially once you leave those cities and head to more rural parts of Malaysia or the Philippines. In some countries, such as China or India, Western expatriates are in general advised not to use the public healthcare system, and to instead rely exclusively on expatriate-oriented private hospitals. In a few countries, such as North Korea, healthcare is almost non-existent, so you will need to be evacuated to more developed countries in order to receive satisfactory medical treatment.
Before setting off, ensure that you are either covered by the state-run universal healthcare system, or that you have purchased insurance to cover your healthcare expenses for the time you will be there. Most Western countries have taxpayer-funded universal healthcare coverage for their citizens and permanent residents, but this is not universally available to expatriates. The United States, on the other hand, for the most part lacks government-subsidised healthcare, and healthcare costs are almost entirely covered by private health insurance. If you are required to take up private health insurance, the cost of premiums can sometimes be covered or subsidised by your employer as part of your employee benefits; check before you leave to be sure. If you are moving to a developing country to work, ensure that whatever insurance policy you purchase covers you for private hospitals, as the standard in public hospitals may not be what you are able to put up with. Also ensure that your insurance covers medical evacuations, as you may sometimes need to be airlifted to a more developed country in order to receive adequate medical treatment for your case, the cost of which is prohibitively expensive for most people.
Expat life can be dull and lonely at times, but also exciting if one embraces new opportunities.
In countries and regions less connected to the "outside world" than other parts life can be dull and uneventful to cure this many expats often venture into the nearest capital or take a weekend trip to another country.
To cope with living abroad, familiarize yourself with the local customs and culture as much as possible. Try to get out and see more than what you normally would during the commute to and from work. Make new relationships; seek out new friends. In most countries, you'll generally find that the more polite and good natured you are towards the locals, the easier your stay will be, and you might even make some life-long friends in the process. The general idea is to NOT be a shut-in, get out and generate some life experiences for yourself. Remember, people are all made from the same materials, and we all have the same basic feelings. Those in other countries aren't much different from you. If you can wrap your head around that concept, you will have a much easier time acquainting yourself with your new surroundings.
A recent Forbes article covers a survey of expat-friendly countries; Canada, Germany and Australia topped the list. The UAE was rated most difficult, though it does have a large number of expats and salaries are high.
See also Retiring abroad; some of the discussion of the expat life there also applies if you are working.